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Aug. 4—As quarterback Maddox Kopp stood at the podium on Tuesday, answering questions from the media for the first time since joining the Colorado Buffaloes, JT Shrout walked to the back of the media scrum.
Shrout, a junior quarterback, pretended to hold out a microphone and laughed a bit as he listened to Kopp.
Earlier in the morning, Shrout "was out there celebrating any single victory," offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said. "Not because it was about him, but because he loves football that much, and he missed football that much."
Mentally and physically, Shrout is in a much different place than he was 11 months ago. A knee injury on Aug. 14, 2021, cost him the entire season. This week, for the first time since then, he has been fully cleared to practice and he's once again competing for the starting job with incumbent Brendon Lewis.
"Really happy to be out there again," Shrout said when he took his turn at the podium.
After three seasons at Tennessee, where he played in eight games (with one start), Shrout transferred to CU in January of 2021. He was looking for a chance to start and spent the entire offseason battling for the job. During a live scrimmage at Folsom Field, he made a cut to his right, tore up his knee, and was done for the year.
"It was depressing almost," he said. "It was really hard. Football is my first love, so not being able to go out there and play was really difficult for me. But I tried to stay in it mentally as much as I could. That was helpful."
Watching film, studying the playbook, and helping Lewis and backup Drew Carter kept Shrout engaged.
"That helped me a little bit, kind of get out of that funk," he said.
Nothing compares to playing, though. Over the past year, Shrout has celebrated milestones in rehab and practicing this week is another one.
"Injuries do that to you when you miss a year of playing," head coach Karl Dorrell said. "When you're used to playing or you're used to dominating at that point in time in your career, it hurts when you miss a year because you really appreciate all the work that goes into it. You really appreciate the work and the teammates and the camaraderie. I think that's where JT is right now."
Shrout, who is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, was able to participate on a limited basis during spring practices but has so far impressed Sanford as he goes through team drills.
"I am really pleased with where JT's at," he said. "I thought at this point of time, there might be still a little bit of favoring of that knee. But he is showing mobility, he is showing the ability to throw on the run, and he has shown the ability to run with the football so that's encouraging to see."
Shrout and all of the quarterbacks now wear a brace on their front leg (left for the right-handed Shrout) to help prevent serious injury. As he returned to action, Shrout said there was a bit of a mental hurdle to clear initially, but he feels he's past that.
"I feel confident, I feel stable," he said. "I think my recovery, my rehab I've done with (trainers Andrew Hamstra and Nick Cromidas) and strength coach (Shannon) Turley, they did a great job with me throughout that whole time. So I feel good and I trust it.
"Obviously, I just have faith that whatever is gonna happen happens, so just go out there and play free and don't even think about it because it's just gonna slow you down."
Lewis started all 12 games a year ago, but Shrout is very much in contention to win the job this month. Lewis brings more speed and running ability to the table, but Shrout has a strong, accurate arm. Shrout didn't bite when asked to compare the two but said his goal is fairly simple.
"I think I'm just gonna go out there and manage the offense, get us in the right situation, and be accurate with football and consistently move us down the field and get first downs and touchdowns," he said. "I think that's what I can do."
Along the way, he's sure to celebrate his victories.
"I'm pleased with his attitude," Dorrell said. "I'm pleased with just his excitement about being on the field and he wants to lead this football team."